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Don't Let the Irrigation Business Scare You

DENNE GOLDSTEIN | Miscellaneous

If you’ve never worked on irrigation before, upon close inspection an irrigation system might appear to be a jumble of wires running here, there and everywhere, valves that work in a way you don’t understand, and pipe running underground. It all looks very confusing and it all sounds like Greek to you. This is usually the first impression a landscape contractor will get and, generally, he will shy away from it and defer to an irrigation guy.

So this landscape contractor continues on his merry way, and then one day he gets a call from a potential client -- a client that he's been trying to get for quite a while. The contractor wants this account. He visits the client and everything seems to fall into place; he will take over the maintenance of the property. And oh, by the way, he'll need to re-program the controller; it's not working properly.

Oops -- what does he do now? How many more clients does he have to give away before he realizes that if he only spent more than a few moments looking at an irrigation system, he would begin to understand it. If you think I'm kidding, think again. That is how many contractors get into the irrigation business.

"I know of a number of landscape maintenance contractors who got into the irrigation business for that very reason," said Andrew Smith, state affiliation representative for the Irrigation Association. "They realize there is a missing link because the site is not properly managed from the irrigation point of view; consequently the property does not show as well as it could."

"As the demand for irrigation services increases, there is more emphasis to expand the talent pool," Smith noted. "As new contractors enter the market, it is imperative that they learn not only the proper way to maintain a system, but also how to conserve water. Most landscaped sites have a tendency to be over-watered."

There are some compelling reasons for you to consider getting into the irrigation business. Probably the main reason is the one stated above. If you're in the maintenance business, you don't want to lose clients because you can't service their existing irrigation equipment. If you're in the construction end of the landscaping business, you should realize how much money you're leaving on the table by not installing irrigation. And probably most importantly, the client prefers to deal with one contracting firm.

Because we're creatures of habit, we tend to shy away from things we're not familiar with. Remember when you first sat down and looked at a computer? You thought you would never learn how to use it. But slowly and surely, as you began to use the computer, one program at a time, you began to understand the power of it.

The same holds true with almost anything that is new to you. You need to get some hands-on experience. All of a sudden, as you begin to understand it, you're not afraid of it anymore.

4.jpgFor many landscape contractors, servicing an existing irrigation system will give them entry to new markets. It used to be that when a landscape maintenance contractor would send his crews out, if they broke a sprinkler head, they would call an irrigation contractor to repair it.

Sometimes the irrigation contractor couldn't get there in a timely manner and sometimes the maintenance contractor would realize how much his company was spending on repairing sprinkler heads during the course of a year. Whatever the reason, the maintenance contractor felt compelled to at least learn how to adjust, repair and/or replace sprinkler heads.

Before I go any further, let me say that there's lots of help out there. If you were to go into your local irrigation wholesale distributor, speak with the manager or owner about your business and your desire to learn how to replace or repair sprinkler heads that are broken on the job, he would show you how to do it!

Like you, the distributor also wants and needs new customers. Usually, he will be delighted to pull out a sprinkler head from stock, a riser and a T, and proceed to show you how to take the sprinkler head off and replace it. If a riser or tee is cracked, he will show you how to repair it. Why is he so anxious to help you? You are a potential new customer for him. Once you learn how to make those repairs, you will end up buying lots of sprinkler heads and parts from him.

Let's take this a step further. Let's say that you've learned how to adjust and repair sprinkler heads, but you don't understand the workings of a controller. If you went back to see the owner of the store and asked him to explain what a controller does and how to program it, you will find him eager to show you and teach you. And the same holds true for valves, wire, etc. Like the computer, if you learn one program at a time, and use it often, you won't forget it. If you repair sprinkler heads once a day or every other day, you will not forget how to do it. The same holds true for programming a controller. Once you learn how to do it, and do it a few times, you will not forget it.

Let's say one of your customers asks you to reprogram their controller. It seems that someone fooled around with it and it wasn't functioning properly. You, at this point, are not familiar with that particular brand of controller. You take a look at it, but are afraid to do this one by yourself. You are not comfortable taking the controller off the wall and bringing it to your wholesale distributor, so what should you do?

Well, you could call the distributor and ask to set up a time that would be convenient for you to call back, and he could walk you through the programming. Another option is to call the manufacturer (they all have toll-free numbers that contractors can call for assistance or information).

The truth is, if you're determined to understand irrigation, you will, in a short period of time. You'll learn the simple things first, and get to a level of confidence that you're comfortable with. Like the computer, once you've mastered one program, you'll move on to learn another.

Just think, if you learn the basics of adjusting sprinkler heads or replacing them, and learn how to repair broken Ts, you can make the repair as soon as the damage occurs; your customer won't even know about it, and you will save time and money by not subbing out that job. When you realize how simple it is, it would behoove you to have a few people from each crew learn how to do it as well.


Learning about the various controllers in the field takes a little more time, but with a little persistence and reading of the instructions, or talking with someone from the distributor or manufacturer, you will eventually get the hang of it.

Wow! All of a sudden, new vistas open up for your company. No longer will you shy away when you hear the word 'irrigation.'

Installing a new irrigation system requires more knowledge. Water pressure, spacing between the sprinkler heads, how many sprinkler heads to put on a valve, and stuff like that. But let's save that for another article.

Suffice to say, if you approach the irrigation business as stated above, you'll find it easy to get into, you'll find distributors anxious to help and, more importantly, you'll find satisfaction in knowing that you were able to overcome something you have been avoiding for some time.

Equally as important, you'll have satisfied clients! What a great way to run a business.

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